SNC-Lavalin seems to reflect Quebec political culture

Quebec is only provincial government with permanent corruption inquiry

Maybe I’ve been in journalism too long and I’ve become jaded, but listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government make excuses for the SNC-Lavalin affair was, in my opinion, not worth listening to. Until this week.

The affair revolves around a Canadian company allegedly bribing corrupt officials of a foreign government. Bribing government officials anywhere in the world is illegal, by the way.

Former federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould testified the prime minister’s office improperly pressured her to let the company off the hook due to the threat of job loss (which could translate into lost votes for the Liberals, heaven forbid). Of course Trudeau and the PMO denied any pressure, denied such conversations etc.

Well, Wilson-Raybould must have been thinking ahead because she recorded one of those conversations with PMO staffer Michael Wernick. Again, Trudeau said he knew nothing of the conversation of course.

It wouldn’t surprise me if all of this turns out to be true. The suggestion the top office in Canada was trying to get alleged criminals off the hook just for political gain shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with eastern Canadian politics and I suspect one of the main reasons Wilson-Raybould wouldn’t play ball with the PMO is because she doesn’t hail from the culture of corruption apparent in Quebec politics. After the so-called “Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry” in Quebec, things like SNC-Lavalin should come as no surprise.

Coincidentally enough, this permanent Quebec inquiry, also called the Charbonneau Commission, was formed in 2011 in Quebec to investigate corruption and rigging of public construction projects in exchange for political donations in the City of Montreal. Guess which Canadian firm was at the centre of this controversy? SNC-Lavalin.

The corruption scandal revolved around SNC-Lavalin being awarded a contract for building a new hospital at McGill University; funny thing was, SNC won the contract while incorporating a competitor’s design into the project, according to 2014 testimony from former SNC employee Charles Chebl.

In a 2014 article the National Post reported, “The trick was for the politicians to solicit envelopes and briefcases of cash that were not directly related to the contracts for which tenders were requested, in order by that artifice to be able to skirt anti-bribery laws. Cadotte said the other engineering companies that were part of Longueuil’s system at the time were Genivar Inc., Dessau, Groupe SM and Cima+. In one instance the politicians requested $200,000, and Cadotte delivered $125,000 in cash to Liberal party fundraiser Bernard Trépanier, who stashed it in a briefcase. For the remaining $75,000, he said SNC agreed at the party’s request to pay an invoice from a Montreal communications firm for services that were largely never rendered. Yves Cadotte (previously a senior executive with SNC-Lavalin) was asked whether he ever thought about denouncing the collusion to the Competition Bureau of Canada, which has a policy of clemency for whistleblowers. Cadotte answered ‘No.’”

One of the inquiry’s goals is also to investigate the possible presence of organized crime in the Quebec construction industry. Good idea.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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